Reviews

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen Review

Witch Queen Key art featuring fireteam of three and Savthun looming over in the distance

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen is the expansion I have been anticipating for years. Ever since diving deep into the lore of the Hive and learning about their origins as a weak race of aliens born on a doomed planet, I have been enamored with their story. It’s a story of perseverance through adversity, about a family who was pushed to desperate measures to ensure their survival, and about how their choice affected them and the universe in irrevocable ways. It’s all very grandiose stuff, and until now it’s been hidden away in the lore of Destiny; that impenetrable fortress of knowledge saved only for those who dared to either read it themselves or let a Youtuber do it for them.

When Destiny 2’s previous expansion was announced, Beyond Light, Bungie also announced The Witch Queen and Lightfall. In the past year, Bungie has used Destiny 2’s seasons to weave a story that set the stage perfectly for Savathun’s arrival in the Guardians’ world. Savathun, a character previously known only to lore nerds and players who really paid attention to the in-game story, became a fully fleshed out being; someone that anyone who played this past year’s seasons would know. Not only that, the game did an excellent job of building her up as a truly unknown quantity. With all that lead-up, my main question going into The Witch Queen – in terms of story – was whether Bungie’s narrative team would stick the landing, and by all means they have.

The Witch Queen’s story is unparalleled when it comes to Destiny campaigns. Of all the campaigns I have played of Bungie’s (including Halo), the level of storytelling on display here is top notch. Twists and turns abound, without the story ever feeling subversive just for the sake of it. Characters’ motivations are always hidden just out of reach, whether it is Eris Morn, Ikora Rey, or Savathun. Just like a noir film, no one is ever really one hundred percent trustworthy, and that is what the story needs. Intrigue and internal conflict drive this story forward, making it so much more complex than campaigns of old where Guardians are essentially pointed in a direction and told to go kill things. Here, it feels like we are active participants in the investigation of how Savathun stole the light and what she plans to do.

A large part of the credit for the success of The Witch Queen’s story has to go to the team that handles the game’s cutscenes, because they knocked it out of the park. Destiny 2 has never looked as beautiful or cinematic as it has in these scenes. Ikora Rey and Savathun get the most time to shine in these scenes and the level of detail on Savathun’s skull-like face in particular is bone-chilling. Hand-in-hand with the animation is the amazing voice acting by everyone involved. Again, Ikora Rey, voiced by Mara Junot, and Savathun, voiced by Debra Wilson, steal the show. Ikora really goes through some things part way through the story, and Mara Junot sells every last bit of it. Debra Wilson is frighteningly good as Savathun and even has some surprisingly soft moments that are still laced with just the right amount of Hive edge. The writing is on par with the voice acting, which is to say, excellent. While some of the moment-to-moment writing has characters telling you to “go this place and then to that one,” the way the big picture plays out is incredible.

There was one scene in particular that left me floored. As a fan of the lore, I thought the game was just recapping a scene for unaware players, but it turns out it was offering a huge twist that shook the foundations of my Destiny lore understanding. It’s truly something special to witness, and I definitely don’t want to spoil it here.

At this point, I have fully completed the campaign, but there is more to investigate and engage with after the main missions are done. I plan to cover exotic quests, the crafting system, the missions after the campaign, and the raid at a later date, but for now let’s get into the gameplay offered in The Witch Queen’s missions.

Destiny endgame content has always offered the best mechanics in first person PvE shooters, but those mechanics have not always been translated into the main story missions. The Witch Queen remedies that problem. Unlike every other Destiny campaign, missions involve puzzles, slightly more difficult platforming sections, and the use of buffs in combat to deal with tougher enemies. I have always been a proponent of Bungie implementing easier versions of raid and dungeon mechanics into the main game, and they have finally done it. It just makes sense to give players a taste of what is to come to see if they want to take part in more of it. It also makes the prospect of raiding a lot less daunting when players have a point of comparison in the campaign that they will likely have completed. A ton of my friends have lost interest in the Destiny grind because the only part of Destiny that engages them fully is the raiding, and I think this might be the first campaign I can recommend to them in good conscience.

Legendary Campaign screen, depicting Guardians fighting Hive Light bearers

The Witch Queen is the first Destiny campaign to introduce the new Legendary Difficulty. This difficulty locks players to a power level below the recommended and includes modifiers that make the experience harder. Depending on how many people you are playing with, the experience is scaled down or up. Solo players have less enemies to deal with at any given time, but that comes at the cost of them only having one real life in darkness zones. Meanwhile, each Guardian in teams of two and three only has one Revive token per darkness zone. The Legendary Campaign is expertly balanced, and it offers nice rewards upon completion including gear 20 levels over the soft cap and more. It’s definitely worth it for players wanting more of a challenge, and it will be there later for those who just want to experience the story first. Even then, its difficulty compares most closely to that of a legend Nightfall or a secret mission. It’s not on the level of a Grandmaster, or a solo flawless dungeon by any means.

With The Witch Queen, comes the introduction of the Lucent Hive and Hive lightbearers. This means that throughout the campaign, you’ll be taking on Hive combatants that use Light-based abilities. There has never been anything scarier in all my time playing Destiny than an Acolyte with Blade Barrage or a Knight with a Citan’s Rampart Barrier (this is a one-way shield that only the knight can shoot through). It does not stop there either; these enemies will employe healing rifts, scatter grenades, and more, using your weapons against you. When you kill these light-bearing Hive, they leave behind their Ghosts. You then have to run to the Ghosts’ locations to crush them in your hand before they can resurrect their Hive counterparts. The crushing animation is visceral, giving you a fleeting moment to watch as the Ghost’s eye looks back and forth, knowing it is facing its last moments of life. It is dark stuff, and the animation perfectly conveys the brutality of what your Guardian is doing. Even the Hive that are not light-bearers themselves can be healed and granted overshields by Light-infused moths. These moths can either seek out Hive creatures to heal them (in a similar fashion to Warlock healing grenades) or lock onto you before divebombing in a devastating explosion.

Splash screen of the Warlock Void 3.0 UI. Warlock holds a void soul in their hand.

To combat the Hive’s new abilities, we also have some new toys to play with, in the form of Void 3.0, a comprehensive rework of the Void subclass. This is the first Light subclass rework we will get in a series of reworks over the course of the next year. To sum Void 3.0 up in one short sentence: It is absolutely insane. I have only played around with it on Warlock so far, but in every class you can mix and match aspects and fragments to arrive at the style of play you want to use. Aspects vary by class, but fragments always do the same things no matter what class you are in. For instance, as a Warlock you can equip an aspect that spawns a void soul when you cast your rift, but that aspect isn’t available on Titan or Hunter classes. Crafting your perfect build is much more viable now, because you have a lot more tools at your disposal. Alongside aspects and fragments, all classes can now use all grenades. So no matter what, if you are playing on a Void subclass you can use suppression, vortex, scatter, or any other type of void grenade.

Lastly, the art of The Witch Queen is dripping with color and personality. Deep greens and saturated reds flood the screen in the more Light-infused areas of Savathun’s throne world, while blacker and greyer areas are punctuated with the bright yellows and reds of Hive bubbles that grow on the walls. The pyramid ships also stand out, as we get to see more of them now than ever before. Their architecture shifts constantly, and although it is solid, it always appears to be flowing. Savathun’s character design is finally shown off, and it conveys her regal status in her own “queen-of-the-moths” way. Like all Hive she looks terrifying, but something about the way that she holds herself, or the way she is animated, allows the player to connect more with her than any other Hive character before her. It could be because of the way she talks; she feels more connected to what humans are than Oryx. She also has a much more natural way of speaking, whereas when Oryx spoke it always seemed forced. Whatever it is, Savathun is brought to life in The Witch Queen, in more ways than one.

I am already itching to get back to playing it, but in closing: The Witch Queen is undoubtedly the best overall campaign experience that Bungie has ever released, as a result of its great story, cool tweaks to gameplay, and inclusion of puzzles and mechanics previously restricted only to endgame content. I have only just barely begun to scratch the surface of so many of the new systems introduced with this expansion, but as soon as I have played enough to form an opinion on it, I will update the review.

UPDATE:

After putting 77.7 (what a fantastic coincidence) hours into The Witch Queen and Season of the Risen for the past two weeks, it is time for my final verdict. The Vow of the Disciple Raid was released on March 5, and upon its first completion, new missions were unlocked for the entire community and the entirety of the expansion is now out there to experience. This is why I have waited so long to publish my final verdict. Over the weekend, I took part in the World’s First raid race, and despite not getting a day one completion, my team and I are on boss checkpoint and are prepared to dust them now that Contest Mode is over. Now that the raid is over, there are new missions as well as craftable Exotic class-specific glaives. These glaives do not seem to be game-breaking, but they all provide their own utility. The new mission centers around the new raid location, and it gives players a taste of what to expect, and I can see it being a great place to introduce new players to some mechanics and symbols the raid uses heavily.

So, let’s talk about that raid now (spoilers for mechanics, bosses, and more will follow). Vow of the Disciple is one of the best experiences that Bungie has delivered. It rivals The Last Wish in terms of quality, and everyone always has something to do. Each encounter builds on the last, and the boss designs are incredible. There are two bosses in this raid, the Caretaker, who serves as a sort of DPS check halfway through the raid, and Rhulk, the Disciple of the Witness. Both evoke the sort of design philosophy that Soulsborne utilizes, but each in their own way. The Caretaker reminds me very specifically of Dark Souls 2 enemies that were massive, hulking creatures that tossed fire bombs and held staffs. The Caretaker has the same look, as it is a scorn abomination with a dope-looking cowl. Rhulk, the final boss, utilizes dash attacks, and area-of-effect moves. Everything about Rhulk, from its design to its attacks and the way you are never safe, even during the damage phase makes it a phenomenal fight.

The mechanics in the raid center around different symbols that seem to pay homage to every single important moment in Destiny so far. There are a ton of symbols, so it may seem daunting to learn them all, but they are all pretty self-explanatory and distinct. Earlier I mentioned that everyone has to be doing something during every encounter, but I cannot stress enough how important each individual’s role is in this raid. Not just for clearing additional enemies, but also for making sure the mechanics are dealt with. Call-outs and improvisation and a deep understanding of the mechanics are a must here, as (so far at least) this boss is cheese-proof.

fireteam of 6 outside pyramid in savathun's throne world

Aesthetically, Vow of the Disciple is beautiful. Each new arena is brimming with style and a sense of grandiosity. All leading up to the final boss’ arena that was visible from the start of the raid. You get a real sense of progress by measuring how much closer you’re getting to the strange structure floating in the distance, emanating an orange glow and sitting atop what appears to be an absolutely massive Worm God. For lore nerds, this raid expands and opens up so many new paths of speculation, so be sure to look out for lore pages and secrets hidden away in dark corners. As mentioned before, the enemy designs are incredible, and so are the symbols for calling out. Each of them is done in a unified style, and they are much more memorable than symbols from The Dreaming City.

Musically, Vow of the Disciple brings the hype, from the deep bassy thrum of the early parts of the encounters to the horn-filled glorious noises you hear as the damage phase nears. Destiny music is always top tier, and here it is no different. In the raid and without, the sounds you will hear are incredible. There are areas in the swampy parts of the throne world where nasty things squelch and ooze, and the audiovisual experience comes together incredibly well.

Overall, the raid is a joy to play, and I cannot wait to hop back in when Contest Mode is disabled to take full advantage of my power level. Its replayability is still in question, but as someone who spent at least 20 hours in the raid over the weekend, I still wanna jump right back into the pyramid.

Over the past two weeks, I have put some more time into the crafting system, and I love it for the most part. I do have one big qualm, however, that centers around the crafting currencies. Specific materials that you may need for specific weapons and their perks are capped at 250, but the game also wants you to use a ton of neutral elements (non-specific materials) to change perks and re-spec. You can only earn neutral element from harvesting deepsight resonance from guns, however, and that always gives you a specific material as well. This means that when you are at cap for your specific materials, you really don’t want to waste your harvests and lose those materials just to get neutral element. Then, the question becomes how do you spend your specific materials when you have no neutral element? You really can’t, and at that point the game is basically encouraging you to harvest them anyways. Bungie has mentioned that currency and material caps are a problem essentially hard-coded into the game, but I do feel that there is an answer to this problem. If leveling up weapons granted neutral element, that could serve as a great way to allow people more options when crafting or re-shaping their next weapon. Of course, I am not a developer, and I am not sure if something like that could be implemented, but it certainly needs to be looked at.

A new campaign, a new raid, and tons more endgame missions and gameplay loops to engage in, and my only real qualm is with a pretty small aspect in the grand scheme of things. I had high hopes for this expansion, and they were surpassed in every way.

95

Excellent

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen

Review Guidelines

Destiny 2: The Witch Queen sets the bar for all Destiny expansions going forward, shifting the paradigm so massively that I could never have expected it. Improving upon problem points in past releases, offering a Legendary mode with difficulty scaling for solos, duos, and trios, and introducing a new crafting system, this expansion has a lot to offer, and that’s without even mentioning that it also includes one of the best PvE raids ever. Witch Queen is a must-play for fans of the looter-shooter genre, and I encourage even those who got burned by Destiny before to give it a try. This is no longer a sign of what is to come. It is here, and it is so, so good.

Noah Anzaldua is a game journalist, Twitch streamer, and a passionate fan of Apex Legends and Destiny 2. Writing and streaming are his passions, and he is carving a career path out for himself. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama where he is majored in News Media, History, and Political Science.

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